One conversation most couples have before marriage or early in their marriage deals with children. Do you want children? How many? When?
But one thing couples rarely discuss is how they will strengthen their marriage after having kids.
That’s not surprising. Unless someone prompts you, as an engaged couple, why would you think about how that first little child (and possibly future children) will influence your marriage.
God tells us that children are a blessing. And they are. I love our three children (and now their children). And having children profoundly, and positively, impacted me and my marriage.
Having children taught me:
- How selfish I am
- How to serve even when I don’t feel like
- How to love unconditionally
- How to set aside my needs for another
- How to postpone some desires
- How to work as a teammate with my husband
- How to survive on little sleep
But the greatest lesson I didn’t expect was how to place the priority on my marriage after having kids.
Dave and I were meant to be a team. A unit. Together and complete before children entered the picture.
You can’t always see that when your baby is an infant. When you start your parenting journey, you must focus on learning how to care for that child. It’s a matter of life or death.
Leaving the hospital, you don’t walk out with a training manual for motherhood or fatherhood or how to strengthen your marriage.
And you certainly don’t walk out feeling like you know exactly what to do. You feel the pressure to care for this helpless little wonder. And the temptation to make it the center of your universe. Those first few months after baby arrives challenge you and your marriage in multiple ways. Just ask any Mom and she’ll tell you how she thinks she’s failing.
I thought I was. After our first child’s birth, I struggled to get our daughter to sleep. My husband, who’d worked a long day and attended classes, offered to try to settle her down. In a few minutes, she was calm and soundly sleeping in the cradle. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or frustrated. In my exhausted state, unfortunately, I erred toward frustration. For 18 months, she fussed and fumed until Daddy came home and could put her to bed.
This nightly failure to settle my precious girl for sleep fueled my belief that I wouldn’t be a good mom. And that had adverse repercussions on my marriage.
I let resentment build. My fear hopped in the driver’s seat and put my fear of failure on the gas pedal. He tried to help and succeeded. My ego was wounded. It was a selfish response to a loving act. Not my husband’s fault—mine.
Those first few months with a newborn put a tremendous strain on your marriage.
No one can prepare you for this time which involves a concentrated focus on caring for this child that tests your relationship. Eventually, though, you get into a new life pattern. And, hopefully, a bit more sleep!
Now, you and your husband have a choice. Do you prioritize strengthening your marriage relationship? Or do you place your child’s needs first? As a mom, whose heart is to nurture this precious baby, it’s too easy to continue to place the baby’s needs before your marriage relationship. And when that happens, your beautiful, precious child and the redirected focus negatively influence your marriage.
Which of these needs more attention to strengthen your marriage after you have kids?
Make a Point to Have Adult Only Time.
Do you and your husband have regular time together without the children? Children, like you and me, are selfish. They want what they want when they want it. Sound familiar? One of our jobs as parents is to teach our children how to spend time without your undivided attention. If you allow your children to commandeer every moment of your day, you hurt them.
Plan times when you and your husband are alone at home. Then, teach your children that this is Dad and Mom’s time and not to be interrupted unless someone is in danger of losing a limb or death. 🙂 Yes, this won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if you both tackle this from the same angle. Mom and Dad get time alone.
When your marriage relationship is rocky, focusing on the kids feels more productive. But, the best thing you can do for your kids is to fix the issues between you. Do you and your husband need to hash out an issue? Get a babysitter and find a place to work through the issue as much as possible. This might be a scheduled meeting with a coach or counselor. If you aren’t at a place to have this conversation without it becoming World War III, then agree to take turns watching the kids so you each have time alone to process through some issues. But, the purpose of this time alone is to get a grip on your personal struggle and concerns and then come back together to work on the resolution. Your children need Mom and Dad to function as a team, not seething roommates who explode easily.
Limit your children’s interruptions.
Do your children know how to wait for a conversation to end? Without you training them they don’t. My children learned to play well without me. But, if the phone rang, or a friend popped over for a chat, my children abandoned their ability to be separated from me. I found out I’m not alone with this one. So, while it took time and frustrated me with how long it took, my children eventually learned that rudely interrupting my conversation had consequences. You have the choice to influence your children toward respectful behavior or allow them to influence your life toward their every whim.
Prioritize time with your husband.
Take a look at your calendar. How many activities relate to your children versus you and your husband? If your schedule involves wearing a chauffer’s cap every day, it might be time to rethink your children’s activities. This becomes more complicated with each child added to your family. But, just because your child wants to do something, doesn’t mean they should or that it is good for your marriage and family dynamics. We quickly noticed how our lives became schedule-crazy once our children entered school. At that point, Dave and I sat down to make some tough decisions. Would we allow our kids’ latest whims to rule the family calendar? No. Instead, we placed reasonable limits on their activities based on our family values. As parents, we decided the schedule, not our children.
When we evaluate the influences on our lives and marriages, children are a subtle but noble one.
It’s easy to justify neglecting your husband because your child needs you. I get it.
Hidden in that justification, though, is a negative impact on your child.
Spend some time today looking at your past calendar. Note how many activities or time blocks involve you and your husband without children? Remember, right now you gather data without judgment.
Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence, talks about giving your child a heart start. Interestingly, Goleman notes seven ways parents can help their child live well in the world:
- A sense of control and mastery of one’s body, behavior, and the world.
- The sense that learning about things is good and leads to pleasure.
- The ability and desire to make an impact and to do so with persistence.
- Self-control. A sense of inner control, to be able to control one’s actions in an age-appropriate way.
- Able to engage with others knowing you are understood by others and understand them.
- Capacity to Communicate. The ability and desire to verbally exchange ideas with others.
- Able to balance your needs with others in group activities.
Accurately assessing how you strengthen marriage relationship after children enhances not only your life but theirs.
Give your child the best start by not making them the center of attention. Your child deserves better from you and your husband. Show your child how you love and adore your husband. Allow them to know that Daddy comes first for you.
Children crave boundaries and because they are innately eager to please, they are happiest when they know they are making their parents happy. Learning to respect that their parents need a date night, need uninterrupted time to talk, and need some separation from their children is healthy and necessary for a happy home.
Once Dave and I re-aligned our marriage to allow the proper influence from our children, our family life improved. It sounds crazy, but our kids behaved better when they weren’t the center of attention. Draw healthy boundaries for every family member.
If your marriage struggles and feels more painful than peaceful, it’s tempting to place your priority on your children. But, I encourage you to acknowledge the struggle, name it, and decide to overcome it. Dave and I faced a devastating struggle over 20 years ago. Unfortunately, at that point, I chose not to confront it. We continued caring for our children but brushed the pornography addiction under the rug naively hoping it would go away. It didn’t. Instead of teaching our children to face their problems head-on, we taught them, by example, to be dishonest in their most important relationship. Nine years later, that hidden addiction almost destroyed our marriage. Thankfully, with good coaching and counseling, we showed our children how authentic living could rebuild a marriage.
If you need more ideas on where and how to start to strengthen your marriage after having kids, especially if there’s been a painful disappointment in your relationship, I’d love to help.